It’s around 3:15 on a rainy Thursday afternoon and Cheryl Chambers, in a black raincoat and toting an umbrella of the same shade, is running late.
She brings her appointment into her office, a spacious room with a window overlooking the back entrance of the Student Activities Center. One wall is covered in framed certificates and awards. Plaques etched with her name top a filing cabinet by the window. All of these recognitions and achievements highlight Chambers’ success as an employee of higher education, particularly for her work as the Dean of Multicultural Affairs.
Five years ago this month, Chambers established the Office of Multicultural Affairs at Stony Brook. Since then she has worked to help students of all races and ethnicities spread their cultures throughout campus. Her job requires her to advise several clubs and organizations and attend countless meetings, especially when there are culture-related events to coordinate.
And for a school as diverse as Stony Brook, these events happen quite often.
“There’s always stuff going on,” Chambers says. “It’s just really wonderful. I enjoy it.”
Her schedule is packed: a meeting for Black History Month planning; another meeting to plan for next month’s Multicultural Show and Food Tasting; various committee meetings. For Chambers, though, those meetings are just some of the many ingredients that help create the huge melting pot that is Stony Brook.
Before working at Stony Brook, Chambers worked in the Office of Minority Affairs at Syracuse University, where she got her Bachelor’s degree in English. She eventually branched off into student activities and landed a job at Cornell University. Once she returned home to Long Island after a few years upstate, she began working at Stony Brook, another one of her alma maters (she earned her Master’s degree in human resource management here), and held many different positions within the Dean of Students Office and student activities. That’s when she saw opportunity.
“All aspects of culture and diversity are right at our doorstep,” Chambers says. “This is a place where students can learn from each other and develop a sense of community…and see how much they have in common.”
The creation of the Office of Multicultural Affairs lead to new traditions at Stony Brook, as well as the improvement of old ones. Chambers and her staff work with students and other advisors on planning events for Black History, Hispanic Heritage and Women’s History Months, and they coordinate with the Interfaith Center for the Festival of Lights in December. And the Multicultural Show and Food Tasting has become a popular annual tradition with the office’s help.
There are also many student-lead initiatives that Chambers and her staff oversee. The Multicultural Women’s Alliance focuses on women’s issues throughout different cultures, promoting awareness and coming up with potential solutions. The Student African American Brotherhood is a national organization that creates a peer community for African and Latino men and helps them excel as students and individuals. The UNITI Cultural Center, located in the Student Union, offers programs for campus community development and provides facilities for student use. Chambers uses these groups as examples of the many opportunities students have as outlets for cultural expression.
“We definitely have a lot, I think, to offer students here,” she says. “There’s a high degree of collaboration, support and acceptance.”
Diversity is one of the foundations of any campus, Chambers says. At Stony Brook, a community compiled of numerous races, religions, sexualities, ages and ethnicities, diversity is literally everywhere, and Chambers encourages students to embrace it through programs and events while they’re here.
But for Chambers, experiencing different cultures is not the only part of being a multicultural person. Part of being such a person, she says, “is taking some type of action.” She uses the example of a hypothetical conversation where one individual might make an offending comment about homosexuality and suggests that students challenge it. “It doesn’t mean you have to take up arms,” she says with a laugh. “Just speak up and say, ‘You know, I think that remark is very hurtful.’”
Incorporating culture into the lives of Stony Brook students is the sole mission of Chambers’ career. Aside from involvement with her church and her position on the Alumni Association Board of Directors, she dedicates the majority of her time to promoting the importance of a multicultural life to the campus community.
“We’re so interdependent…that it’s essential that a person has some skill level…to understand people from diverse backgrounds,” she says. “It’s a fact of life. You’re going to encounter people who are different.”